Travel with Grandparents: Vacations the Whole Fam Will Love
With grandparents more active than ever and families often separated by geography, it makes sense that family vacations are getting bigger and better with up to three generations choosing to travel together. We've found some vacation spots to make your multi-generational travel enjoyable for everyone.
Families eager to escape the demands of urban life are opting to schedule a "haycation," where they experience the inner workings of a typical American farm. Using a site, such as Farm Stay U.S., is the best way to search for a farm that meets your needs. Every farm is slightly different, but some things you can expect no matter what haystack becomes your pillow. First, don't let the rustic sound turn you off. Lodging options range from rooms inside the farmhouse to luxury safari tents pitched out in the field. Whatever the lodging, you're guaranteed to be warm and comfortable with all the amenities needed for a peaceful night's sleep. Once you arrive, visitors are encouraged, though not required, to pitch in for typical farm chores. Gathering eggs and feeding baby goats from a bottle each morning will hardly seem like work, though. Not only are these chores certain to entertain, but they have the added benefit of teaching kids that food doesn't come neatly packaged on the grocery store shelf. Food will become a big part of the farm experience, with many meals prepared from the bounty produced in the nearby fields. The memory of cooking a meal from ingredients that were hand-picked just moments before will not be quickly forgotten.
The Grand Canyon has long been a stalwart of family travel, but finding a way to explore this natural wonder with a wide age range can be tricky. To appeal to the entire group, base your vacation in Williams, Ariz., where you not only have easy access to the canyon, but can also enjoy the Wild West and Route 66 history of the area. Downtown boasts one of the best preserved strips of the Mother Road in the country, and all of the buildings, including some dating to the 1900s, are on National Registry of Historic Places. When it comes time to journey to the Grand Canyon, do it in style aboard the Grand Canyon Train (pictured). Once the only way to reach the canyon, this throwback mode of transportation travels through one of the largest Ponderosa pine forests in the world with onboard entertainment and meals before arriving at the Grand Canyon. Watch out on the return trip; some of that Wild West flavor catches up with the train when bandits board ready to stir up some trouble.
Little St. Simons Island, Ga.
If you've been dreaming of a place where you can truly "get away from it all," it's called Little St. Simons Island, Ga. This private barrier island off the Atlantic coast is just a short boat ride from the busy mainland, but once you arrive, you're secluded in a world of seven miles of beaches, 10,000 acres of marshland and a guest list that only allows 32 visitors. Transportation is limited to bicycles, kayaks and motorized skiffs, ensuring that you will adopt a slow enough pace to really enjoy the natural surroundings. Three and four bedroom cottages brimming with summer retreat charm and all the comforts of home are ideal for large families. Guest houses offer families a fireplace indoors and a spacious deck outdoors to enjoy together but also separate bedrooms for a little privacy. While the kids are off on a naturalist guided tour to explore a nearby tide pool or catalog the migrating birds, adults can try out a favorite fishing hole or take to the waters by boat. Don't even bother worrying about meal time; it's all covered with farm to table cuisine in the main lodge. Lunch is served seaside or packed in a picnic basket for you and your family to enjoy privately in your favorite spot on the island.
Lancaster County, Penn.
Lancaster County, colloquially known as Amish Country, is just 50 miles from Philadelphia, but it feels like traveling to a foreign country. Like any visit to a new land, start with a cultural immersion at Amish Farm and House, where you can explore a 200-year-old Amish home and farmstead. A friendly guide will answer all your questions about the Amish culture and customs. Armed with a new traditional understanding, you can arrange for a horse drawn buggy ride that will take you into the community to explore the farms and homes or arrange to enjoy a meal in the home of an Amish family. Shift gears and thrill the railroad lovers young and old with a visit to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. A collection of 100 locomotives illustrate the history of rail travel. If riding the rails is on your list, hop aboard the historic Strasburg Railroad for a roundtrip ride on a steam engine. Though exploration of by-gone eras is the draw of Lancaster County, a couple of modern theme parks will be too exciting to pass up. Roller coasters and water rides are the order of the day at medieval themed Dutch Wonderland, while chocolate, and nothing but chocolate, is king at Hershey's Chocolate World.
The original residents of Fredericksburg hailed from Bavaria and settled in the Hill Country of Texas in hopes of setting up a new home in the New World. The town still retains all that old-world charm with a healthy dose of southern hospitality, and plenty to appeal to all ages. As the Bed and Breakfast Capital of Texas, charming guest houses and gourmet restaurants abound that will thrill the older generation, while still warmly welcoming the little ones. For a hands-on history lesson, plan to visit the National Museum of the Pacific War, where kids (and kids at heart) will be thrilled to get up close and personal with the collection of tanks, guns and airplanes. Geology lovers will "dig" the area for its unique features, including a 425-foot granite batholith, known as Enchanted Rock (pictured) because of mysterious groans from underneath the earth. To continue the geological journey, travel from 425 feet above the earth to 100 feet below into the Cave Without a Name, a sparkling show cave that has remained nameless because it is considered too beautiful to be described. If all that nature is not enough, head to Old Tunnel State Park where millions of Mexican free-tail bats will emerge just before sundown.
Monterey County/Carmel, Calif.
If a vacation doesn't seem complete without an ocean view, Monterey County will not disappoint. Encompassing 13 cities and 99 miles of coastline, there is something for everyone, but start at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a view of the creatures that live below the surface. When you're finished, you'll be right in the middle of historic Cannery Row, where you can take in a bit of Steinbeck history, visit the quirky shops or rent a peddlecart to explore the coastline. When the sea begins to call, a tour aboard the Princess Monterey Whale Watching fleet will get you up close to the famous sea lions and various forms of whales. Nearby, Carmel-by-the-Sea has a distinctly European flavor that appeals to grownups, but activities don't leave out the young ones. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is known as the "crown jewel" of the California state park system for good reason. Breathtaking seaside hikes along towering cliffs lead to vistas that showcase sea creatures of every variety or intimate alcoves with tide pools filled with sea life. Perhaps best of all is Carmel's beach, where bonfires are allowed and s'mores are highly recommended.
Overnight River Rafting
Bringing the grandparents along doesn't mean that adventure has to go out the window. Overnight river rafting is an ideal vacation for a wide age range, particularly if you choose a rafting company like O.A.R.S to take care of all the details. River trips offer the opportunity to explore parts of the country that are unreachable by car and have the extra bonus of presenting plenty of time for togetherness. The trip choices are seemingly endless—how long to travel, which river to traverse, what side trips to enjoy—but the basics like food, shelter and safety are all covered by the expert river guides. While on the river, your family will have the opportunity to float through canyons that read like a geology textbook and brave the rapids (don't worry, it's not that scary). When you make camp each night, gourmet meals will be prepared for you, leaving free time to explore nearby waterfalls, play a game of horseshoes and swap stories about shooting the rapids.
Ocean and River Cruises
If there is any vacation that meets the "something for everyone" mantra, it would be a cruise ship. Not only do cruise ships offer food, entertainment and amenities that will span a wide age range, but they are also leading the charge in offering accommodations that are specific to multigenerational travels. Connecting balconies and a variety of stateroom options will meet the needs of each individual family and the group as a whole. One of the biggest appeals of cruising in general is that you only have to unpack once, but you get to see many different locales. Large families with a variety of interests, and maybe differing traveling stamina, will appreciate this feature. If the large ocean cruises aren't your scene, intimate river cruises on smaller ships are another option. American based river cruises vary on how kid friendly they can be, but Adventures by Disney offers a European cruise along the Danube that is all about the kids. Onboard the ship is a relaxed environment for groups that allow for both space and togetherness. Every member of the family will find something geared towards their specific age range, including supervised kid's clubs to create that much needed "adults only" time. Meal times become a perfect opportunity to come together and share stories from the day. Maybe you can even talk grandma into performing in the ship talent show. That would be a memory worth repeating over Thanksgiving dinner.
Guest and Dude Ranches
Guest ranches, sometimes known as dude ranches, win praise from families both for their all-inclusive amenities and wide availability across the country. There is a broad spectrum of guest ranches across North America, ranging from rustic, working ranches to luxury resort ranches. Ranches are typically located in picturesque locales with a variety of activity options. Maybe the biggest draw for families, though, is in the way that they are able to erase the typical distractions that steal from quality family time. Adults, particularly the older generation, will be thrilled to be interacting in a way that doesn't even remotely involve an electrical outlet. Slow-paced activities, like board games, nature walks and horseback riding are on the agenda. Along with that comes a chance to reconnect and time to linger over a conversation or two. Dude ranches also get two hooves up from families for the homey accommodations, like lodges and cabins, that give families a common area to enjoy while still offering the privacy of individual bedrooms. You'll be sold with the all-inclusive nature of the ranch. Everything from meals to activities is planned for you, so everyone, including the family vacation planner, can actually have a vacation. Sites like the Dude Ranchers Association can help in finding a guest ranch that works for your herd.